Slyne head is yet another of the major tidal gates on this trip miss the tide and it not a pleasant place to be. I woke from my tented slumber early to make sure I could make a clean get away. I had spotted a small channel inside the rocks the previous evening which would allow me to cut the corner and stay out of the worst of the tide.
As I cleared the small rocky outcrop which was sheltering the beach I was confronted with Atlantic swell rushing in as it rose up in the shallow water creating steep ramps over which I had to paddle to break free of the shore and get lined up for the narrow passage through the rocks, I lined up to cut the corner and surfing the swell in I picked a line between the shoals and with a final surge i was in calm water. A gentle breeze on my back I slipped through and around towards Mannin Bay and began to pick my way across the bay staying clear of the minefield of rocks which guard the bay.
Once I passed Cleggan and made my way towards Inisbofin I was pleased to be back in a familiar part of the country, or so I thought. The next section of the Galway and Mayo coast is where I have spent many days and nights surfing, hiking and camping. Strangely I found myself disorientated by the overlapping islands and headlands, it was then I realised this was an entirely new perspective and although I recognised some landmarks I had never navigated this coast by water.
I checked my bearings a few times and eventually began to trust the map and compass and made my way north inside the shelter of Inisbofin and Inisturk passing the entrance of Kilary harbour and the steep slopes of Connachts highest mountain Mwellrea.
With a seal for company I picked up the tide off Carrownisky where I learned to kayak surf many moons ago and shot up the coast towards Clare Island, my planned destination for the night. As began to cross Clew bay I began to consider my options for the following day. Achill sound would require precise timing to get teh tides right and an early start would be in order, something around 04:30 should do it. Or if I pushed on another 5 miles to Achill Beg I would get an extra 90minutes in bed, easy decision really.
Luck on my side I passed the harbour on Clare Island and picked up the ebb tide on a mirror flat sea and made the crossing much faster than expected. I knew from the satellite images that there was a beach and possible camp site to the east of Achill beg but as I had made such good time I decided to push on another 500m to the main land and pulled up on a rocky strand. Hauling up the boat I went about the familiar routine and set up camp in the rabbit infested sand dunes.
Achill sound is probably the most significant tide gate on the entire journey and with flows of up to 8knts you will be waiting a while if you get the timning wrong, get it right and it is free miles and big smiles. After forcing myself to resist the temptation to turn over and snooze after the alarm I was up and off again to catch the last of the flood tide up the sound. I jumped on the train and off I went, effortless paddling on a grey wet morning.
As I approached the bridge in Achill sound the flow slackened and I slowly made my way up and under the bridge tackling a strong current to pass under. I pulled into the shore on the slip and decided I would wait for the tide to turn, only an hour or so and then it would be back on the train and out the gap. I think I last 5 minutes before the cold began to take hold, first my hands then my feet and then it began to creep under my layers to my body. Not willingto stand around adn with no shelter from the conditions I decided I would be warmer fighting it out at 2knts on the water. I would only have to fight the breeze for a short while then the tide would be with me and I would be flying, wrong! I battled the head wind and the last of the flood tide for much of the sound making little or no head way for nearly 2 hours, eating into my average speed and putting my hopes of making Ballyglass in jeopardy. Finally after a back breaking struggle in the rain I made the Bulls mouth and the tide shot me out and then it was full steam ahead for Blacksod point and the Belmullet peninsula, Ballyglass was back on as a possibility, but I would need to catch some help from the tide or the breeze once around the corner.
Across the shallow reef at low tide and around the southern tip of the peninsula I had the tide and was gliding effortlessly, a light cross wind but otherwise flat seas and a clear view up the sandy beaches on the Atlantic shores of Belmullet. Then the boat speed slowed, glancing at the chart I was confused, the tide is flooding and should be in my favour running north, but no it was against me. It must be an eddy or counter current, I will move inshore to get some relief, then the wind back and bang into my face, another struggle ensued.
Glancing at the chart and again at my watch and scanning the waters I would not figure what the tide was doing, why was it running south hindering me and where had this northerly wind come from, it was not forecast. I battled against wind and tide for a short while before my ambition of Ballyglass was reduced to French port, a small harbour 5 or 6 miles to my north and should be achievable. The fight grew tougher and I again slowed and as the pain in my shoulder began to shoot across my neck and the muscle in my back strained I again revised my ambition to the next headland, perhaps a mile ahead, fight an fight as I did it slowly grew closer and I gained some relief from wind and tide. But it was too remote and a stop here would mean no chance of moving for at least 2 days with imminent gales on the cards.
I gather myself and decided I would push to another beach to the south of French port, close to a road and close to Belmullet town. I rounded the spit of land and got back in the fight. As I did I spotted a familiar jacket, orange fluorescent, could this be the local coast guard out to check up on my progress. Not wanting to waste the opportunity I made for shore and like a guardian angel, Michael Hurst (Ballyglass Coast Guard) had come out to offer assistance.
We arranged a rendezvous on the far side of the bay where I could safely land and he could pull up a van. I was delighted that I would have some local support as it had been a tough day on the back of 4 long hard days. After a little confusion we met up on a beach and loaded up. Probably the most interesting transfer yet, 18 foot kayak and a Transit van, see the picture to see how well it fit, or didn’t!
Back to Michaels house and we unloaded the boat in his garage. He then invited me in where he had a spare bed and saved some diner for me. It was most welcome to spend a night under a roof and with such great company. The Hurst family were terrific hosts and we talked until late about my adventure so far and about Michael’s daughter Maria’s upcoming trip to Kilimanjaro. I occupied their kitchen for much of the following day charging batteries, blogging and drinking tea. After dinner I returned to beach to await the arrival of my 2 great friends, Donnchadh and Eamonn who were en-route from Dublin. I have to extend my thanks to Michael, Lena, Maria, Michael and Ciara for welcoming me, a complete stranger, into their home a kind a generous gesture which I can hopefully repay someday.
Back on the beach I did not have to wait long for the lost boys to arrive. We exchanged pleasantries as old friends do, set up camp and made for town, chips and a pint. The following morning after a quick review I decided it was not suitable to paddle and we made for town to catch the rugby match, the less said about that the better. Back to the beach, no improvement, back to town for food, back to the beach and the final verdict, no paddling today. We chilled out for the evening enjoyed some drinks and recounted tales of old adventures we shared in far flung places.
We arose to calm seas and it was time to make a move. The boys had kayaks and planned to join me for the first could of mile before taking a short cut and making it back to the beach. I would like to say it was nice to have company on the water but as we were immediately separated we never did get to chat much but know there was somebody out with me was rather pleasant. As we rounded the head and it was time for the lads to return they wished me luck and I was off on the road again.
I made for Erris head and was greeted with a fast flowing tide, kicking up steep waves and pulling me through the scattering of rocks awash with Atlantic swell. It was just like be back on a river as I surged through carefully placing my paddle and guiding my boat through the waves.
Broadhaven bay was calm and allowed me a safe crossing, and then it was on towards the spectacular cliff coast of north Mayo. I had planned to pull in at Porturlin but with time on my side I decided Belderg was within my reach so I pushed on. As I arrived in Belderg harbour I bumped into the Killala Coast Guard boat which had come out to check up on me and after a short chat they wished me well and I made for land and to find a campsite.
At this stage it was in my mind that Donegal could be within reach so as I pulled in and was greeted my some local fishermen I set about making plans for a big move the following day. I set up camp on the pier with no tent pegs just a couple of rocks to hold down the tent and after a few laughs with the locals it was off to bed, set for a big day the following morning.